Hakim Ziyech knew his first six months as a Chelsea player hadn’t gone as planned. There were two injuries and a loss of form, but the Moroccan never lacked confidence or self-belief. So in an interview with Dutch television channel Ziggo Sport in February, he made a promise.
“You’ve not seen the real Ziyech yet,” the 28-year-old said. “But don’t worry, he’s on his way.” Unfortunately for the man nicknamed ‘The Wizard’ during his time at Ajax, those words didn’t come to pass. At least not as quickly as Chelsea supporters will have expected.
However, as anyone who has watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy will recall courtesy of Gandalf the Grey: “A Wizard is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.”
And that brings us to Chelsea’s pre-season. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Ziyech was back at Cobham on day one of the Blues’ preparations for the 2021/22 campaign. There can be no doubt he has benefitted hugely from that.
In Chelsea’s opening pre-season fixture of the summer – a behind-closed-doors game against Peterborough at Cobham – Ziyech struck a hat-trick. He also looked sharp in the victory over Bournemouth and impressed in the win against Arsenal at the Emirates, although there was one glorious chance he wasted.
Yet undoubtedly Ziyech’s standout performance of the summer came against Tottenham last night. Given plenty of freedom off the right of the front three, the Spurs defence couldn’t deal with the 28-year-old’s intelligence off the ball and quality on it.
His first goal was a stunning strike from the edge of the penalty area after N’Golo Kante won back possession in midfield. His second was a clever shot across goal into the far corner that admittedly took a slight deflection on its way beyond Pierluigi Gollini.
Ziyech should’ve had an assist between those strikes, too. It was he who put Timo Werner through on goal for the German to score, only for the linesman to incorrectly raise his flag for offside.
Given his form going into the 2021/22 campaign, it seems inconceivable that Ziyech will not be in Tuchel’s starting XI for the UEFA Super Cup in Belfast next Wednesday and the Premier League opener against Crystal Palace three days later.
And that is in stark contrast to how things unfolded for the Morocco international ahead of his first campaign at Stamford Bridge.
The deal to bring Ziyech from Ajax to Chelsea was done early. Really early, in fact. It was in February 2020 that the transfer between the Dutch giants and the Blues was completed. Ziyech would arrive at Stamford Bridge the following summer.
Then the world was turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic and professionally speaking, Ziyech was impacted in a big way. The Eredivisie was cancelled in April 2020 and when he officially became a Chelsea player a little more than two months later, the Blues were in the midst of completing their delayed Premier League campaign.
For almost two months, Ziyech could train with his teammates but doing nothing more. Then in his first taste of match action, a pre-season game against Brighton and Hove Albion, he suffered a knee injury which ruled him out for the best part of six weeks.
With the benefit of hindsight, that injury perhaps impacted Ziyech more than many imagined. And while he hit the ground running on his return, he then suffered a hamstring injury at the start of December against Leeds United and never truly regained his starting spot during the rest of the campaign.
“It’s been a difficult season,” Ziyech admitted in April. “With adaptation and everything around injuries, playing then a couple of games not playing then playing.
“I think the intensity more, it’s not really the style. It’s more about the rhythm and sometimes you think you have the rhythm, and then you have a setback.
“So it took some time. I always have to believe in myself, so I’m not really loud about it, but I just keep going and keep working. That’s the only thing that I can do, and then the rest will come by itself.”
Ziyech has proven that statement correct this summer. The Wizard has finally arrived at Stamford Bridge, now Tuchel must trust him to produce the magic.